About The Author
Maya Glasser is a Rabbinic student at the HUC-JIR in New York. She is a rabbinic intern at ARZA and founder of the ARZA HUC-JIR Fellowship.
Everyone knows the story of Noah and the ark. From childhood, we are told that Noah is a hero. According to a basic reading of the Torah, Noah is the best person around, so God chooses him and his descendants to survive an epic apocalypse and save all the animals. There are rainbows and doves, and finally a new and hopeful existence on dry land. The end.
Actually, there is much more to the story! Like each of us, Noah is flawed. He is not a one-dimensional caricature, but a whole person. The 11th century Talmudic commentator and sage Rashi comments, “Even Noah had little faith. He believed and didn't believe that the flood would come, and he didn't enter the ark until the water was pushing him in.” Noah may be the most righteous person of his time, but he is also scared. Noah doubts and has moments of little faith. He questions his task, and doesn’t necessarily believe that a flood is even coming. After his ark pulls up on dry land, the first thing Noah does is plant a vineyard and get drunk. He behaves inappropriately, and then curses one of his own children for witnessing his scandalous act. This Noah is not present in our childhood tales. He is three-dimensional, and has multiple layers to his actions and personality. This Noah is flawed, stressed, and angry.
Noah’s doubt, mistakes and anger give us permission to question, to err, to become emotional in stressful times. That is what makes us human. Rabbi Jacob Isaac Horowitz once asked: “Should a person strive for greatness or wholeness?” He explained using an example of two challot, one large but sliced and one small but whole. It is customary to bless the whole one because wholeness is more valuable than greatness. If our biblical heroes and role models have feelings and sometimes mess up, it is all the more acceptable for us to do so. As whole people, we experience a wide range of emotions- and that is ok. We don’t have to be great, one-dimensional heroes; our authentic, whole selves have a more lasting impact on our communities and on the world.
Another story that we are told from childhood is that of the one-dimensional, heroic Israel. Religious schools and synagogues everywhere teach their students that Israel is a miracle, that it is wonderful, and every aspect of it deserves to be praised. However, there is much more to the story. Israel has heroic aspects, yes, but it also has many layers and it makes mistakes. Like Noah, and like each of us, Israel is three-dimensional. Israel is flawed. Israel could be better. It would be nice if it were perfect, with rainbows, inclusivity, openness, and peaceful existence for each and every one of its citizens. Yet, there is much to struggle with, and many curses for its descendants. Noah was righteous, and he was fearful, and he was human. Israel is a miracle and a democracy and a Jewish state. Israel marginalizes and oppresses and is intolerant. There are many slices; without looking at Israel as a whole, its blessings and its challenges, we cannot see it clearly.
May Noah’s narrative and our increased understanding of his character inspire us to recognize that there is always more to the story. May we be patient with ourselves, and with our exploration of Israel’s flaws. May we always strive to create wholeness and holiness, working towards the day when there will be a true olive branch in Israel, for all peoples.